CASA GRANDE — Smack in the middle of the parking lot of an abandoned outlet mall is an old Wendy’s that has been transformed into the main kitchen for the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens' Meals on Wheels program.

For over a year, the organization worked hard to renovate the building and last week held the ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication to its longtime chairman, Jim Norris.

Norris has dedicated 47 years to the PGCSC and served as chairman on the board and foundation.

“No person has done more for Pinal-Gila seniors than you,” President and CEO Olivia Guerrero said. “You shared your time, strength and love for the senior citizens of Pinal and Gila counties for the past 47 years. Jim, because of your actions and deeds, this will be your legacy. You’ve carried and shared the experience needed to guide us.”

Norris has been a part of the organization since it began in 1974.

He also spent time on the Casa Grande City Council with now-Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller.

When Miller joined the council, he was not familiar with the Meals on Wheels program. Miller stated that while he and Norris did not always agree, they did agree when it came to programs like Meals on Wheels.

“I’ve looked up to him as a mentor in a lot of ways,” Miller said. “He had a lot of wisdom about how communities are organized so I’ve always appreciated my time with Jim over the years. I’m a man of few words but I can tell you that this is well deserved, Jim.”

Chief Operating Officer Ana Medina stated that the kitchen was a very lofty goal for the agency and provided a brief overview of the Meals on Wheels program, which provides nutritional meals for seniors.

The areas the program serves include Arizona City, Eloy, Red Rock, Valley Farms, Coolidge, Florence and everywhere else in between.

Medina added that the program is planning to expand to Maricopa, Stanfield, San Tan Valley and Gold Canyon.

“By this time next year, we expect to double the number of individuals we’re serving to 300 individuals per day,” Medina said. “It’s another lofty goal but we’re getting kind of good at achieving goals.”

Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland recalled when PGCSC Advisory Council Chairwoman Belinda Akes reached out to him and how there were flooding issues, holes in the building the size of garbage cans and other issues.

“They’ve done a tremendous job,” McFarland said. “It’s quite a facility and it really serves Pinal County. I know between our Meals on Wheels for the city of Casa Grande and this Meals on Wheels, we work together very closely with each other to make sure we’re taking care of the seniors and the folks that are in need of our help. This is a wonderful project, and it is a wonderful thing that they do.”

PGCSC board Chairwoman Joan Koczor credited Guerrero as well Medina and Vice President of Development Victor Gomez for all of their hard work in turning the old rundown Wendy’s building into the functioning central kitchen.

“Most people would not go past the front door,” Koczor said. “They saw possibilities, they saw potential.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.